I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: The Passion of the Nation
Ramond Tuason (middle) and Ramon Fernandez (back, in yellow shirt), together with ABS-CBN, got the ball rolling for the MBA. The Passion of the Nation was taking shape. (Photo courtesy of Emily Barcelon).
Back in the late 1990s, ABS-CBN tried and failed to make a deal with the Philippine Basketball Association.
Around the same time, the idea of the Metropolitan Basketball Association needed a major network to get going.
Ramon Tuason, who was the CEO of MetroBall, Inc., the MBA's mother company, happened to know the Lopezes of ABS-CBN through their exile to the United States at the height of Martial Law.
It's really funny how life works out sometimes.
And so with a logo and an idea in mind, Tuason approached his old friends about a possible partnership. Tuason's old friends were ready to engage.
The plans for the MBA were in motion, the ball started to roll.
It was just a matter of time.
HOME (AND AWAY) IS WHERE THE HEART IS
"I think we all felt that it was like the NBA of the U.S., where a team represents a city or a region," Peter Musngi said.
Musngi of course, is the one and only "Voice of ABS-CBN" and is a currently consultant for The Company.
While he says he wasn't "one of the core people in the MBA," Musngi was part of the league from its inception up to its untimely demise.
"And since it's always a given that in the Philippines, the regional fervor is really high, we thought that it can be a very, very competitive league," Musngi continues.
"That's why when we were really looking for a blurb for the MBA, if I remember correctly, I was the first one who said, 'it's about passion.' Since I'm also the voice-over announcer, I said, 'why not MBA: the passion of the nation?' Sounds corny now [but] it was the branding of the MBA then," he added.
The MBA's home-and-away format was obviously the league's main selling point.
After all, the Philippines didn't need yet another commercial basketball league to rival the PBA (Again, more on that later).
If the MBA was to really get going, it needed the regional format. And this format helped the league connect with more established partners like ABS-CBN and four-time PBA MVP Ramon Fernandez.
Yes, "El Presidente" himself who happens to be the league's first-ever Commissioner.
"When the group of Mr. Ramon Tuason approached me, meron na silang kasuduan with ABS-CBN who will cover the games," Fernadez told ABS-CBN Sports.
"It really didn't take long for me to decide on it [joining MBA] because I believed in the concept, that's number one. For me, the best set up was a community-based basketball games all over the country," he added, once again going back to the MBA's proposed format of home-and-away games.
MEETINGS, MEETINGS, AND OH YES, MORE MEETINGS
With the essential components for the MBA in place, it was just a matter of putting it all together for the league to launch.
And for that to happen, Tuason was a very busy man in the months leading up to the MBA opening ceremony in Pangasinan.
"I went to ABS-CBN 2-3 times every week, I talked to Rolly Cruz, who was the Godfather of the MBA in ABS-CBN, he was given the task by Gabby Lopez to take care of the MBA. So I was going to him to get advice on how to start everything up," Tuason said.
Aside from taking care of the partnership with ABS-CBN, Tuason was also in charge of the logistics strategy at that time.
He was basically a one-man team, arranging everything.
"I went to every single city to look for venues, we had to make sure the venues were comfortable enough but small enough to be able to accomodate 5,000 spectators," he said.
"And we had to have it TV-friendly, we had to have security around it, and we had to have it in an area where it was accessible by public transportation," Tuason added.
Growing up in the United States, Tuason was exposed to leagues where cities were represented.
He wanted that kind of league to work here in the Philippines. Fortunately, many people shared his vision.
"We wanted to bring basketball, and sports [in general] actually, to the concept of home-and-away and regional [games]," Tuason said.
"So we wanted to bring up talent from the regions, mostly Visayas and Mindanao, to come to play for us," he added.
And unlike the PBA where one has to like a certain player (or a certain product?) to go root for a team, a league where cities and provinces were represented will have a set following in place.
It's just a pride thing.
"Napaka-ganda nung format niya kasi community-based, city yung pangalan nung team. Ang following nandoon na," Fernandez said.
ABS-CBN ate the entire idea up. This was a time when the company had no real sports property, this was before the UAAP came to Studio 23.
And after a failed deal with the PBA, the MBA was worth the shot.
"Since at that time there as really no sports programming, at least not formal, for ABS-CBN Channel 2 and then for Studio 23, we thought that since we had a lot of platforms anyway, we can probably try a basketball league that is region-based," Musngi said.
"Because I think that was the secret of the MBA, instead of a commercial league, it was region or city-based that is competing during that time," he added.
The ball was already rolling for the MBA in terms of its foundation, now it's just a matter of getting the teams...(to be continued)
*I Love You, This Game is a series celebrating the Metropolitan Basketball Association's 20th anniversary. Stay tuned for more!
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